Vancouver Family Law Attorneys

Navigating the waters of separation and divorce is not easy. Lack of communication and trust feed the anxiety, stress, and uncertainty around you, your family and your future. It pays to have experienced counsel on your side to guide you through this difficult time in your life.  Since 1997, Spencer & Sundstrom PLLC has been representing good people through this process and a number of other family law actions, including:

Frequently Asked Family Law Questions

When it comes to complicated legal matters, we know you have a lot of questions Some of the more frequently asked divorce questions we receive include the following:

Q. What is the difference between a divorce and a legal separation?

A. Frankly, very little. Both a divorce and legal action are commenced by filing a petition in the Superior Court of the County in which you reside. Both actions can be “contested” (i.e., where the parties are in dispute over terms of support, property division, residential schedule, etc.) or “uncontested” (i.e., where the parties are in agreement to all material terms). The waiting period for a divorce in Washington is at least 90 days.  A legal separation can last forever but may be converted to a divorce after six months. The practical difference between the two is that a legal separation is a bit more flexible, allowing the parties the opportunity to remain “married” under the law in order to derive some benefit (e.g., continued insurance coverage, vesting of retirement, sale of home, etc.) or it may allow parties who have uncertainty in their relationship to test the waters of separation short of the finality that accompanies a divorce.

Q. How long will the divorce take?

A. That really depends on the people involved. At a minimum, the process will take 90 days. Where the parties are motivated and desire to avoid an expensive battle in courts, there is no reason why a settlement cannot be negotiated within that same time frame. However, for a variety of reasons cases can, and often do, go beyond that 90 day window. In Clark County, Washington, a mandatory settlement conference is usually held within six to eight months and this is where we find a good eighty percent of the cases resolving. For the unfortunate, trial awaits after that with most trials being scheduled for about 12 – 14 months after the date of petition.

Q. I need spousal support. What sorts of things do the courts consider?

A. Spousal support is ordered under RCW 26.09.090, which provides: Maintenance orders for either spouse or either domestic partner—Factors.

(1) In a proceeding for dissolution of marriage or domestic partnership, legal separation, declaration of invalidity, or in a proceeding for maintenance following dissolution of the marriage or domestic partnership by a court which lacked personal jurisdiction over the absent spouse or absent domestic partner, the court may grant a maintenance order for either spouse or either domestic partner. The maintenance order shall be in such amounts and for such periods of time as the court deems just, without regard to misconduct, after considering all relevant factors including but not limited to:

(a) The financial resources of the party seeking maintenance, including separate or community property apportioned to him or her, and his or her ability to meet his or her needs independently, including the extent to which a provision for support of a child living with the party includes a sum for that party;

(b) The time necessary to acquire sufficient education or training to enable the party seeking maintenance to find employment appropriate to his or her skill, interests, style of life, and other attendant circumstances;

(c) The standard of living established during the marriage or domestic partnership;

(d) The duration of the marriage or domestic partnership;

(e) The age, physical and emotional condition, and financial obligations of the spouse or domestic partner seeking maintenance; and

(f) The ability of the spouse or domestic partner from whom maintenance is sought to meet his or her needs and financial obligations while meeting those of the spouse or domestic partner seeking maintenance.

This statutory framework usually guides a court in the final determination of maintenance at the time of trial. Often the more immediate needs of spousal support are met under a “temporary order” issued by the Court after consideration of the length of the marriage, the financial “need” of the dependent spouse to meet their basic monthly expenses and the financial “ability” of the other spouse to contribute to or assist with that need.

Q. How will child custody be determined?

A. In 1987, Washington state largely dispensed with the term “custody” in favor of designating a “primary residential parent” and a “visiting parent.” The criteria relied upon by the courts in developing a permanent parenting plan can be found at RCW 26.09.187.  Essentially, a court is to consider the following factors:

(i) The relative strength, nature, and stability of the child’s relationship with each parent;

(ii) The agreements of the parties, provided they were entered into knowingly and voluntarily;

(iii) Each parent’s past and potential for future performance of parenting functions, including whether a parent has taken greater responsibility for performing parenting functions relating to the daily needs of the child;

(iv) The emotional needs and developmental level of the child;

(v) The child’s relationship with siblings and with other significant adults, as well as the child’s involvement with his or her physical surroundings, school, or other significant activities;

(vi) The wishes of the parents and the wishes of a child who is sufficiently mature to express reasoned and independent preferences as to his or her residential schedule; and

(vii) Each parent’s employment schedule, and shall make accommodations consistent with those schedules.

Under the statute, Factor (i) is given to be the greatest weight by a court. Further, these factors assume that there are no reasons to limit one or both parents’ contact with the children. Factors that may be used to restrict a parent’s access to a child can be found at RCW 26.09.191.

Q. How is child support calculated?

A. Generally speaking, child support is determined according to a set of “guidelines” established by statute. The child support amount is arrived at combining the monthly net incomes for each parent, referencing the child support guideline for the total amount of support that is to be allocate given the combined monthly net incomes of the parents, and then pro-rating out the shares to each parent based on their respective share of the combined monthly net income.  The Washington state Dept. of Social and Health Services has come up with an “estimator” on their website –

Q. What in included in child support?

A. You would be surprised by what is not included in the basic monthly child support transfer payment. Child Support traditionally encompasses housing, food, clothing, and transportation. Child Care, long-distance transportation, uninsured medical expenses and education expenses are usually “in addition to” the basic monthly child support obligation and are usually pro-rated between the parents according to their respective contributions of the combined monthly net income.  Further, many courts in Washington are also ordering parents to share in the costs of sports, clubs, and extracurricular activities for the children, especially when there is a history for the children’s participation in such activities and parent support for the same.

Contact Our Vancouver Family Law Attorneys

Do not hesitate to contact our office Spencer & Sundstrom to schedule a consultation to discuss you needs.  At that initial consultation, we will thoroughly review your case and expectations and provide you with solid advice and counsel.  We are there for you and your family.

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